Image from bbc.co.uk
Last night an unusual thing happened. I hesitated before posting something on Facebook. I know that's a rarity - normally a thought barely has time to travel from my brain to my fingers before it's there on my timeline - but this was dark. This had the potential to traumatise and to trigger but also to trivialise. It was a picture of a dead child, drowned on his way to what he thought would be a better life.
I'm normally dead against posting such guilt-inducing things on social media. I hide things in my news feed that upset me, like maltreated puppies or teen suicide victims. Why? Because I can't process the amount of emotion they provoke, so I coolly shut it off and scroll on. I don't feel that Facebook is the place for haranguing people with child abuse as they're eating breakfast. There is so much that is so bad in the world that no-one could possibly deal with it all. So, we tend to choose to deal with none of it. It's compassion overkill.
But there was something about this petition that compelled me to share it. Something about that child, so normal in his football pants, that needed to be seen. That couldn't be shut off anymore. Because there is a real crisis emerging not far from here and the people dying are real people, not "illegals" or "migrants" but just people who were living in a civilised country five years ago. That's why the petition needed to be seen. Who knows what it will achieve, if anything. Will Theresa May care any more about those lives than her Tory colleagues care about disabled people's lives? Possibly not. But it has made so many people wonder what we can do to help. It's galvanised people in a way I've rarely seen before - in a world stuffed full of charitable causes, it seems there is still space for this one. And that makes me hopeful that we haven't lost our compassion after all, that there's still hope for humanity.
Then I read something else. Another thing I always swear not to do - delve into the comments section of a news article. It was a strange article, linking our old friend Theresa to the growing "Migrant Crisis" via her comments on EU migration. Last time I looked, Syria wasn't in the EU but geography has never been my strong point. The article went on to say that the EU was meeting in two weeks to discuss the crisis and try to decide what to do with all these people in Calais, Budapest and halfway across the Med.
First comment expressed disgust that the meeting was two weeks away. I wholeheartedly agreed. How many more boats could capsize in that time? But then our views diverged. He said two weeks was too long because "how many more economic migrants are going to get in over that time!" (sic).
How many what, exactly? Economic migrants? Those people fleeing war are economic migrants? Like a Polish plumber or an Australian student looking for bar work in their gap year? Yes, according to these commenters, all migrants are pretty much the same. And we should be concerned, not that they might die in two weeks but that they might not die and instead make their way into this country? What are you talking about? How is this the issue? Were you given a soul at birth, or is there just a convenient cupholder there instead?
It got worse. "Just fed up with these migrants and their sob stories". "They are not refugees - they are Jihadfugees". "So if I make a citizens arrest, of an Illegal Immigrant Invader Occupier, to what Detention Centre do I deliver him to?"
And this genius masterplan: "There is only one element that will slow down if not stop the movement of these masses heading for Europe and that is WINTER. Forget about our useless PM and others, there is nothing like three foot of snow to deter wood-be travellers" (sic)
300 comments and each one the same. Trumpeting a retreat from the EU and voting UKIP as the twin saviours of this country. Pulling up the drawbridge, Staying British. Christian prayers in schools and St George and all that guff (where was St George from, again? Someone remind me..?).
Where was the compassion?
Nowhere. And once we lose that empathy, what are we? They say Britain is getting full, but I'd rather live in a full country than an empty country populated by empty people. This is not an immigration issue. This is a humanitarian disaster and if you can't see that, you may be missing what makes you human. You may refer to the refugees as vermin or subhumans but I don't think it's them that deserve to be demoted like that. It's the people who can't seem to find even a little compassion in the face of a crisis.
I don't have the solution to the Middle East. I don't think it ever will be solved - it's the birthplace of the Bible, and what does the Bible say if not that man will always fight against man? I don't have the solution to the "immigration problem" but I do know that it's been wildly exaggerated, and that the number of refugees coming here is a fraction of the number going to places like Germany. I know that the economic migrants so disdained by UKIP lovers tend to put more into the economy than they take out. But these are all arguments that can wait until this moment has passed.
Right now, it's about a dead child. One of many. And whether we as a country actually take one look at this and keep on scrolling. Or not. What will it be, UK?